The Dragon Ball franchise is inarguably one of the most popular anime properties the world over, with its over-the-top action being what most people think of when they imagine anime. Sadly, its extraordinary nature has proven the job of bringing it to life in live-action a difficult one. In fact, the one (official) attempt to do so turned out to be an exercise in how to not adapt a manga or anime.
Despite this, Hollywood directors such as Zack Snyder have thrown their hat in the ring to redeem the franchise in this medium, but perhaps Snyder should take a few notes from a Hong Kong favorite beforehand. Jackie Chan was actually once interested in adapting Dragon Ball, and his thoughts on the series provide the perfect blueprint to do so.
Jackie Chan Dreamed of Making a Live-Action Dragon Ball
Jackie Chain was, and likely still is, quite a fan of the original Dragon Ball, having watched and read the original manga and anime after their praises were sung by associates. His thoughts concerning the series were later noted in the Daizenshuu guide to the franchise:
"For a long time, I had heard from those around me that Dragon Ball was interesting. So I watched the anime, then read all of the Chinese edition of the manga. Naturally, as everyone had said it was pretty interesting. I guess the character I like most is of course Goku. The scene I like best is… there are too many to list, so I can’t decide on just one. There are so many fascinating scenes. It’s a work that I’d really like to make into a movie. Dragon Ball is packed with so many amazing ideas and imagination. However, to make it into a live-action movie I guess you’d need a lot of amazing special effects and an enormous budget."
It's worth noting that there are several other links between Jackie Chan and Dragon Ball. For one, the series was very much inspired by Chan's comedic action antics, with creator Akira Toriyama having watched several of the actor's films before he created what was essentially the prototype for Dragon Ball. The wacky adventure tone would be done away with as the franchise began to focus more on action, but it briefly returned in the sequel anime, Dragon Ball GT. According to Toriyama, a younger Jackie Chan would have also been his perfect pick to play Goku himself.
How a Live-Action Dragon Ball Movie Could Work
Chan was definitely correct in saying that a massive budget and impressive visuals are key to bringing Dragon Ball to live-action, and these are some of many areas where its first foray into the format failed miserably. 2009's Dragonball Evolution was an absolute disaster on multiple levels, and it in no way captured the tone, feel or even look of the iconic series.
Part of this stemmed from the movie's microscopic budget, which was only around a measly $30 million dollars. This pales in comparison to the budget of most modern superhero movies. It also featured the worst of the era's special effects and CGI. Needless to say, the movie looked just as cheap, flippant and outright awful as every part of its production. Another attempt would likely require a lot of green-screen to create some of the more animated locales of the book and show, as well as a sizable budget to make the more outlandish characters, and especially the action sequences, up to snuff.
When combined with Chan's own sense of whimsy and funny fighting styles, a big-budget Dragon Ball could stand at least somewhat of a chance at doing the series justice.